The football off-season was close to another season in the Mid-Suburban League.
From the time the regular season ended until early June, there were numerous questions and a tremendous amount of speculation about how programs would make changes at the top and the effect it would have on the MSL.
So what will the impact be with five new coaches in the 12-team league? There are a pair of high-profile names, a pair of younger guys looking to make a name for themselves and a late addition all the way from football-crazy Texas.
Yet everyone old and new seems to agree there may not be any change at the top of each division. A Week 3 crossover matchup could be viewed as the unofficial title game when West champion Palatine hosts East champion Elk Grove.
But even their situations are much different. Palatine now has one of the MSL's most experienced coaches in Tyler Donnelly leading an experienced team and senior class which seemed destined for major success when it arrived as freshmen.
Senior Division I safety prospect Jesse Bobbit has been in a varsity uniform that entire time. Linebackers Lucas Rago and John Serio and two-way lineman Josh Baldus have been there since they were sophomores.
And versatile workhorse Cam Kuksa and senior quarterback Ethan Olles are among the returning starters and numerous weapons that have the Pirates hoping to make a run beyond last year's injury-riddled second-round ending in the Class 8A playoffs.
"They're like a band of brothers," Donnelly said of their closeness. "There's a swagger to these kids where they don't think they can get beat. If the Bears came in here they think they would win.
"It's not arrogance but confidence. They work hard and we don't have to deal with egos."
Elk Grove had to deal with sudden change when Brian Doll, who led the program to three straight playoff berths and a 7A quarterfinal trip, resigned in late May to take a job promoting football in Europe. Larry Calhoun may be in his first head coaching job but he knows all about dealing with big expectations after arriving from Texas.
"I'm pretty sure the target is on our chest this year," Calhoun said. "That's where we want it and we're making sure we go into the season with that mindset. We're looking forward to the challenge."
Dealing with the adversity of only a couple of months to adjust to a new coach is nothing new for a group that overcame plenty of challenges a year ago. Junior quarterback Adam O'Malley showed his ability and cool under pressure when Dejan Basara was injured and Dan Egan and Johnny Assimakopoulos return to wreak havoc up front.
"Who knows how the late change is going to affect them, but they're definitely going to be good," said Meadows coach Matt Mishler.
The Mustangs will challenge any defense with Ball State-bound quarterback Jack Milas. Hersey hopes to continue its progression toward a playoff spot with two-way standout Hunter Rollins and Prospect looks to make another postseason trip with Andrew Hajek playing a big part on both sides of the ball.
And it shouldn't be long before the East sees the impact of the arrival of three-time state championship coach Brent Pearlman at Wheeling and the successful Mike DiMatteo at Buffalo Grove.
Schaumburg would love to go into Week 9 against Palatine with a shot at the MSL West title. The Saxons hope their standout sophomores of a year ago such as versatile Stacy Smith, running back Sadarriss Patterson and lineman Matt Zolper are ready to take the next step with Division I safety prospect Cole Reyes.
It won't be easy as Conant has one of the league's most versatile and talented players in senior Tim Manczko. New Fremd coach Lou Sponsel has junior quarterback Sam Beutler in his third season as a varsity starter, Barrington has another Division I offensive lineman in Wisconsin-bound Jackson Keeler and Hoffman Estates looks to start heading in a different direction with new coach Eric Ilich.
So will things stay the same atop the MSL even with all the changes? The answers start coming Friday night.
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